Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tips for freelance and work from home mums

Image via Flickr (photographer: GCSNJ)

Times have changed. Where in the past working parent meant one who went to an office for 8 hours a day away from home, now working parent can mean a myriad of things. From working different schedules, freelancing, working part time and working from home, working parent means more than "going to work" these days.

For our family, my husband goes to work all day and I work from home even though I primarily stay home with my kids. Yes, this means many days are a juggle. Especially in the summer. But I am so thankful to be able to write and consult from the comfort of my own home, on my own schedule and of my own accord.

Four of the five kids are in school now. All day every day I find that it's my 15 month old and I. And while there will still be days that I'm in a childcare bind to make it to a meeting or event, for the most part right now I'm feeling like I've got this. {It's day three.}

That said, a few weeks before school started I decided I needed to make some rules for myself so that I can truly enjoy this season. I find that without boundaries I am more stressed, less efficient and really never quite finished. If you, too, work from home in any capacity, I'm sure you can relate to the struggle to truly shut down, to not click on the mail icon on your phone and truly, truly have "off" time.

So here's what's my plan this fall to keep myself on track this school year:

Be on time

When I am late, I am stressed. Sadly, I tend to be late often. This year, I have to drive one of our kids to and from school each day. If I am not intentional with making sure we get out the door on time, it will be a slippery slope. So far, so good.

Shut off the computer at 2:20 and don't turn it back on until 8

My third grader's bus arrives about 2:30 and so many times last spring once he went back to school I would be trying to "quick finish an email" or things of that nature. I want to deliberately shut down a few minutes before he arrives so I can fully welcome him and enjoy time with just him {as most days my 15 month old will still be napping} to talk about his day, get started on homework etc.

Same rule for my phone

While I likely won't actually "shut off" my phone during those hours due to sports schedules for my two oldest and other life happenings, I want to mostly not use my phone. Most of my texts aren't urgent, any email can wait and I really don't need to browse social media, do I? I'm sure there will be exceptions to this, sometimes meetings or events pop up that I would attend during these hours or there might be something I'm contracted to do but for the most part, I'd like to really be unplugged those few hours with my kids.

Aside from a quick check of the email for any school notices/reminders in the morning, don't check email

For me it comes down to, it's just hard to draw the line here. I read a few on my phone, forget to reply because I already read them or simply become overwhelmed with the things I need to accomplish later. It's not fair to myself or the people I am working for when I am trying to split my time and mind that way. I also added a time frame to my email signature that says when I will reply to emails. 12-2 or after 8pm on weekdays works best for me.

No phone calls at drop off and pick up

We've all seen the mom or dad walking into their child's school on a phone call and we've all thought, "get off the phone and pick up your kid." Well, what's so different if that parent on the phone is in the carpool line and their excited kindergartener is about to get in the car? For me, not much. So I've decided no phone calls on the way to drop off and I want to finish any phone conversation before I arrive to pick up at 3:20 so I can talk with my five year old and discuss school on the drive home.

I'm a big believer in teaching kids that they are not the center of the universe and we have made sure that there are times here and there they have to accomodate our schedules and work situations but especially with them being at school all day, I really want to be intentional with the time that they are home and the time we have together as a family.

If you are a work from home parent or have a varied work set up, what sorts of rules and boundaries do you have in place so that you can balance parenting and working from home?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

New maternity coaching study reveals five game changing benefits for mums in the workplace

Could maternity coaching modernise Australian workplaces and reduce those shocking 1 in 2 discrimination statistics?

A recent study into the impact of maternity coaching revealed five key elements that positively impact on professional women and their maternity leave/return to work experience.

The interview-based research was lead by University of Wollongong student Jennifer North with a two-fold purpose. The first, to get a woman’s perspective on the benefits of maternity coaching; the second, to provide recommendations that employers can use to improve the ‘transformative experience’ and retention rates of women throughout their maternity leave and return to work transition.

To complete the study North interviewed experienced, professional women from various private sector organisations in order to represent various return-to-work experiences.

The results (expanded below) clearly highlighted why maternity coaching could modernise business culture in Australia. It showed that when women feel supported during one of the most challenging transitional periods of their career they feel valued, are more likely to stay with their employer and are more productive on their return.

If there was any doubt that this transitional period is challenging (and whether women really need extra support during the maternity leave transition) we need only turn to this year’s Australian Human Rights Commission nation-wide inquiry, titled Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review. It found that 1 in 2 Australian women experience discrimination during their pregnancy and/or return to work with “84% of mothers reporting significant negative impacts related to mental health, physical health, career and job opportunities, financial stability and their families”[1]. These sobering statistics support the growing evidence that maternity coaching is, for at least the women in this study, a crucial element to ensuring women avoid being victimised by tapping in to the support on offer – be that in the workplace, at home or a woman’s own reserves.

Maternity Coaching: why professional women want it

As the pace of business and life generally speeds up it makes juggling, negotiating and balancing a whole lot trickier. It’s no surprise that more professional women than ever are seeking out external support and letting go of the “I can do it all/just get on with it” mentality. Or worse - opting out altogether.

Maternity coaching is a good first port of call for such support as it establishes some perspective and sets up clear plans for managing steps to achieve short to long-term career goals. It also helps to address any practical or emotional issues related to the maternity/return to work transitional period (such as common forms of discrimination like a reduction in salary, missing out on training, professional development and promotional opportunities).

The 5 key elements of maternity coaching that the women in North’s study felt were most beneficial:
  1. Coachee-led but solution-focused. Maternity coaching adapted to a woman’s personal situation (i.e. requirement for flexible work requests) rather than following a prescribed one-size-fits-all programme.
  2. Support from the coach and feeling valued by their organisation. This encouraged loyalty by reinforcing the commitment of women to remain with their employer.
  3. Increased confidence and focus impacts productivity. Loss of confidence or uncertainty about returning to work is a common experience for women. A coach helps to restore confidence by working with women to develop solutions and a return-to-work action plan that eases the transition period and enables them to be more productive on their return.
  4. Independent third party support and confidentiality. A key theme noted in the study was that an independent third party, with no agenda, conducted the coaching. As a result they felt able to express any concerns in a safe and confidential environment. 
  5. Communication and timing of the coaching. Communicating the option to engage with a maternity coach and the timing of initiating contact is particularly important to each woman. Initially, some women did not think it was relevant for them, or the offer arrived after maternity leave had commenced and they had insufficient time to focus on it. Some women feel it would have been helpful to have the coaching while they were on maternity leave.

Why is Maternity Coaching crucial for women, businesses and the Australian economy?

The study points out that many women “do not return, or resign shortly after maternity leave due to transition issues, a trend which has financial and career implications for women and productivity and cost implications for organisations.”

When women leave the workforce for good the repercussions later in life can be extremely damaging particularly in the event of divorce, death of a spouse or old age when women are vulnerable to poverty.

But why are they leaving and how can a maternity coach turn things around?

Let’s look at the stats again. In Australia 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men experience pregnancy/return to work discrimination in the workplace. What’s more, the 2012 ABS Pregnancy and Employment Transitions report found that ‘1 in 5 women permanently left their job during pregnancy’.[2]

“Research and modelling shows that if businesses and other employers are able to retain women and men who are becoming new parents by eradicating pregnancy/ return to work discrimination, there will be a considerable economic dividend to both them and the wider economy.” Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick.[3]

In the Maternity Coaching study women who had the support of a coach and felt valued by their organisation were more committed and loyal to their employer. Higher retention rates means lower recruitment costs and organisations get to hold on to some of the most productive, talented workers available.

Maternity coaching also helps women realise their true value, which is particularly useful when negotiating pay, work arrangements (i.e. greater flexibility), employment conditions, career and development opportunities and entering into contracts. When women realise the value of their contribution to the workforce they stay in it.

“It has been estimated that an increase in female workforce participation by 6% would increase Australia's annual GDP by around $25 Billion dollars.”

The Grattan Institute 2012 via WGEA website[4]

Further resources

Know your own value: online pay and contract negotiation checklist for women. This Security4Women resource equips you with the tools and checklists you may need to negotiate pay and flexible working arrangements with you employers.

Mums@Work Career Coaching. Personalised, one-to-one sessions with a qualified career coach as well as toolkits, group learning forums and other information resources to holistically support employees throughout their journey as a working parent.

Maternity Coaching study: North Jen - Summary of Research paper on Maternity coaching.

[1] Workplace Gender Equality Agency, The price of parenthood: discrimination at work, viewed 12.9.14,

[2] Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Pregnant, and overlooked for promotion - women deserve better, viewed 12.9.14

[3] Australian Human Rights Commission, Pregnancy report reveals personal and financial cost of discrimination, viewed 8.9.14

[4] Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Pregnant, and overlooked for promotion - women deserve better, viewed 12.9.14

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Five tips for silencing your inner critic

Whatever your work load, job role or family commitments - reading this article from a woman who has lived and breathed (and made friends with) her inner critic will give you some valuable tips on how to master yours too. Women in leadership and working mums in particular are prone to negative self-talk at some point - it's hard not to be in a world structured to crush all the amazing, inspiring work we do. So take a moment to reflect on these gems of lived experience and perhaps implement a few in your own life and see what happens.

You can’t hate yourself happy.
You can’t criticise yourself thin.
You can’t shame yourself worthy.
Real change begins with self-love & self-care.
Jessica Ortner

Five tips for silencing your inner critic

This week, I faced my demons.

Given the formidable task of presenting at the Women in Media and Communications Leadership Summit, I shared the stage with an impressive line-up of female leaders.

It forced me to face the demons within: those voices suggesting that I really wasn't good enough to be there.

And in doing so, I was struck again by how difficult women can make leadership for themselves.

Panic and preparation

Throughout my career, I have been plagued by a lack of self-belief.

I would never have believed in my ability to be a leader if it weren't for the male managers and mentors who identified my leadership potential – long before I saw the capability within myself.

And each time I present to large groups, I nurse my anxiety with hours of preparation and moments of panic.

Now that I work with, and coach, executives on leadership and communication, I'm often struck by how quickly female leaders turn the discussion to confidence issues.

During my presentation, I spoke about the work I've done throughout my career to convert my inner voice from foe to friend, and this seemed to resonate with the audience. Many women admitted to feeling that they had to 'fake it until they made it', and were comforted to know they weren't alone in facing the 'impostor syndrome'.

Character and competency

The theme of my presentation was 'building trusted relationships', as this has been the driving force behind my career. For me, nothing builds success as fast as the speed of trust.

Earning and giving trust is a factor of both character and competency. It is the key to building high performing teams and is paramount to winning executive support and fostering customer loyalty. The ability to form trusted relationships brings professional success as well as personal fulfillment.

However, the most critical trust relationship for long-term success is the one we have with ourselves.

Success and sanity

As business leaders, we have to be able to back ourselves. My tips for building confidence are simple to understand, but difficult to execute on an ongoing basis.

They are, nonetheless, essential to building your success while saving your sanity.

1. Manage your mind:

      a. Defeat negative self-talk with rational positive thinking
      b. Use visualisation techniques to create strong mental images of your success

2. Be yourself, and look after yourself

3. Truly commit to success: you need determination and stamina to reach the goals you've set yourself

4. Set small goals, achieve them and celebrate success

5. Don't take it personally: try your best, but detach yourself from the outcome

I was really pleased by the overwhelming support that the conference speakers and attendees gave to each other and the commitment this group, and many others, have to improving the alarmingly low female leadership numbers in Australia.

However, self-belief can only come from one place. If we are to assume our rightful places as co-leaders on this planet, we need to look after ourselves and we need to believe in ourselves.

By: Ava Lawler
First published: 2nd September 2014

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Six steps to flourish at work

Image via Tumblr

Eight-five percent of businesswomen describe themselves as just functioning at work over the past six months, with more than 15 % flat out languishing according to The Australian Pulse of Women In Leadership.

Perhaps it's no wonder when for so long women have been told to change who they inherently are in order to find their seat at the boardroom table. Step up, be more assertive, and, in recent times, lean in.

The message has invariably been about 'fixing the women'. Make women more like men so they can seamlessly fit into the existing organisational structures. Blend in, don't make a fuss, suppress your femininity, don't be too special or have different needs, and god forbid, don't let anyone actually notice that you are, you know, a woman!

Is it any wonder that women are opting out of corporate careers, sidelining themselves or starting their own businesses when they feel demoralised from trying to fit a model that doesn't serve them well? No.

But 75 % of business people surveyed acknowledge that business would better if there were more women in leadership roles.

So what do women need to be more successful in their careers?

Having more women in leadership roles is not just about offering child-care friendly workplaces, part time work, job sharing, or paid maternity schemes, although these things are certainly required and valuable. And it's not just about perceived ambition gaps, sitting at the table and getting the right mentor.

It's about what actually happens when you show up for work. How you show up, and how it feels to you when you do.

We know from decades of research that when people get to do what they do best everyday, they thrive, and as a result, the business thrives. Engagement goes up, collaboration improves, innovation flourishes, productivity lifts and so does the bottom-line.

A growing body of research suggests six steps women can take to help them flourish more at work – no matter what their job is or who they work for:

1. Understanding the value of feminine traits

There is a growing global trend that recognizes the bottom-line value of feminine traits – as identified by research – such as openness, empathy, collaboration, flexibility and patience in our organizations. As declining levels of engagement and productivity continue to plague our workplaces, we need to be aware of the unique value we're neurologically wired to deliver and stop worrying about being "too nice"

2. Challenge our mindsets

Studies are finding that more important than believing in our abilities (or our competence) is the belief we can improve upon our abilities (our confidence) when it comes to success. It's time to make peace with frustration, failure and criticism as natural parts of the learning and growth mindsets and stop measuring ourselves by our accomplishments rather than our efforts.

3. Boosting our confidence by discovering our strengths

It's time to stop hesitating, holding ourselves back and hedging our bets and time to turn our ideas into action. Stepping outside our comfort zone in ways that feel authentic can be easier by understanding what our top strengths are – those things we like doing and are good at – and using them each day at work.

4. Creating more meaning in our work

Having a sense of purpose, knowing 'for the sake of what' we're getting out of bed each morning helps women to worry less about what others think of them, focus their attention on shared goals and take up activities critical to our success.

5. Having a career management plan

Only a small percentage of women actually have a career plan in place, with more than 70% of women operating without one, and nearly 40% saying they are just 'winging it'. But how will we get from where we are to where we want to be without clear goals, a plan and mentors and sponsors to support us?

6. Investing in our wellbeing

Too often the first things we forgo when work and life gets busy is the sleep, movement and nourishment our bodies need to generate the energy, happiness and productivity we need to thrive at work. Sticking to a regular bedtime routine, moving from your seat every twenty minutes and avoiding fried, fatty or sugary foods are the wellbeing non-negotiables women should try to prioritize.

Women don't need to be fixed, molded or modified in order to fit into the ready-made cubicles in our workplaces. But they do need to be supported in order to flourish. And they need to support themselves.

Perhaps one of the most important changes that needs to be made, is for women to grant themselves a new permission to thrive on their own terms, and to embrace the practices they truly need to do so.

By: Michelle McQuaid and Megan Dalla-Camina
First published: 25th August 2014